— Cultural Sources of Newness

An Intervention by Lucy Suchman

Lucy Suchman, the second-order-observer from PARC, will be a visiting scholar at our unit for the next couple of weeks. To test the water, she will talk about one of her recent papers, Anthropological relocations and the Limits of Design (2011)“. I just read the paper, and since several of the researchers in the unit will be abroad on April 3, the blog might be a good way to start some discussion on the text.

“The future arrives sooner here.” The starting quote comes from Silicon valley in the mid-90’s. Today, one might hear that claim – in Berlin. (p.2)

A critical anthropology of design “articulates the cultural imaginaries and micropolitics that delineate design’s promises and practices.” (p.3)

“Innovation is embedded within a broader cultural imaginary that posits a world that is always lagging … a world, in sum, in need of design.” Then comes a precise analysis of Herbert Simon’s design palette in 1969. (p.5)

Design seems to lead to interventions. Three kinds of interventions are described: (1) accounting for procedure, (2) working across, and between, the formalisms of situated logics, and (3) prototyping. (p.6-8)

Ingold writes that things are alive because they leak, and Lave argues that learning is an irrepressible constituent of aliveness. Suchman refers to her earlier relocation in a place “posited to be a central and superior site of knowledge.” The current, postcolonial position is then one of acting in “a series of local economic accomplishments.” (p.13-14)

The “valorisation of newness is a local preoccupation” – I’m curious to find out more about the “performative metaphysics of the new.” Also, I plan to find out about A. Tsing’s friction as a way of “figuring encounters with difference.” (p.15)

The design science that emerged in computer science and management seems to have changed into a design culture, still around the task of dealing with “change, breaks and ruptures.” That is the potential in our studies of the practices of product designers, in the widest interpretation of products. (p.16)

Suchman closes with a recommendation for “modest interventions within … landscapes of transformation.”

The lines I picked out were those in which the resonance with ongoing threads of discussion within our group was the strongest. I see quite a few such resonances – which makes it fairly probable that Lucy Suchman’s modest intervention into the routines and the self-awareness of our unit, within the larger landscape of the institution WZB, will leave its marks.